Saturday, August 23, 2014

Samuel Roth, Infamous Modernist

Jay A. Gertzman

My name is Jay A. Gertzman. In April my biography of one of the most interesting Jewish American publishers was released by the Univ. Press of Florida. Its title is Samuel Roth, Infamous Modernist. The Press publishes a lot of James Joyce studies, and Roth was the first (unauthorized) publisher of Ulysses in the U.S.

My book’s genre is non-fiction, biography.

Describe your book please.

Samuel Roth (1894-1974) was an example of the American Dream as a tragi-comedy of commercial success causing a split between the spiritual and secular aspects of being a Jew.

As for the secular, money-making, side, Roth was very successful as a distributor of prurient borderline books, sold by mail order, as well as classical pornography, distributed through various underground sources.  Not even two consecutive jail sentences, and bankruptcy during the Depression, stopped him. 

and a self-promoter.

Ostracized from the profession of letters, because of his unauthorized excerpts fromUlysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover,   he became a pariah to the literary profession and also to moral crusaders. However, Roth claimed, with justification, to be one of America’s most important fighters against censorship (Roth v U.S., 1957).   If it would not have been for his appeal to the 
Supreme Court for a conviction for sending “obscenity” (Beardsley’s Venus and Tanhauser, with his classic Art Nouveau illustrations), the famous decision allowing the Grove Press to publish people like D H Lawrence and Henry Miller would not have happened.

What is the Jewish related theme in  your book?

Born in Galicia (now the western Ukraine), and immigrating to the Lower East Side at age 10, Samuel Roth grew up in poverty. Had he not left his shtetl, he would have become a rabbi. His father and his melamed agreed he was bright and intense enough. In the late 19th century, Hassidic Jews did not send their sons to a public school to learn German, because they wanted the focus of their education to be Jewish, not secular. In New York, he did not do well in school; the family was so poor his father wanted him to quit, and go to work.  One reason he signed up with a matchmaker (shadchan) was so that he would be invited to a meal at the home of a prospective bride.  But he overcame poverty with his skills as a writer.

Good at self-promotion, The latter, in the form of a letter to his first employer, got him a job in a drug store, from which location his observations of the life around him resulted in early stories. He published them in The Jewish ChildThe Menorah Journal, and The Jewish Exponent. His early poetry, secular and religious, brought him commendations from Louis Untermeyer, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Marie Syrkin, and Israel Zangwill.

His final work was his own version of the Psalms of David. Roth’s last prose work was a visionary novel (1962) about his being present at the last visit of Yeshea (Jesus) to Jerusalem. Many Jewish writers confronted this subject, the most important being Sholem Asch, in a series of novels. It took courage to do so.

The Messiah tells him his destiny is to bring Christians and Jews together after 2000 years. What he has to say about the Jewish experience, about God’s call to humanity “Where art thou,” about the “Evil Inclination” as Hassidic mysticism defined it, and about how to restore the world to prepare it for the Messiah, are all very well thought out and should be acknowledged as the modernist Hassidic ideals they make clear, in the language ordinary folks speak.

His most recent appearance in print was in Chabon’s Cavalier and Clay (p.614).

What do you write, what have you published, and what are your reasons for writing?

My writing is scholarly in nature. I have published three previous books, and about 25 articles in journals. This book is different. Samuel Roth’s story is an important Jewish American one.  It is a good time to be reminded of the materialistic and spiritual resources of Jewish immigrants in the early twentieth century. Jewish people are now integrated into post-Holocaust, post-industrial American society so completely that the character and passions of their grandparents are often lost to them. So my motivation for writing this biography includes telling American Jews about the kind of choices our people had when they were distinctly not assimilated into American society.

What formats are your book in?

So far, it is only in hardback. I hope it will be in paperback in about a year. Meanwhile, if you would like a copy at $30 (less than half the published price), email me

What do you like and dislike about writing and publishing?

My career is in academic publishing. I love the challenge of researching and orgainizing important but little-understood issues related to literature and cultural history, My pet p[eeve is the absurdly high price of university press books, the market for which is conceived as being for research libraries.

What prizes has you book won? Has it been reviewed yet?

 It has won the "Pick of the Month" award for May 2013 by American Booksellers Federation for Free Expression. Roth’s career is of the first importance in the story of our first Amendment freedoms

There are several reviews, all positive, to which I have added links on both my websites (listed below).

Websites for Samuel Roth, Infamous Modernistcan be found at


Wednesday, July 03, 2013

HaRav Yehuda Amital z"l - To Dance With The Angels

It is hard for me to even comprehend that three years have gone by since the death of Rav Yehuda Amital. His shadow lives on in many facets of my life and certainly in the life of thousands of students who studied under him. And yet, as in all things, time seems to try and heal the pain, lessen the tears, and cause us to move on.

During this time of the year, the three weeks as they are known, the three weeks of mourning over the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, my first thought when they begin, is that soon the anniversary of the death ("yuretziet") of Rav Amital will be upon us. I equate the two now, as both are a time for mourning and a time for introspection. 

I look around and wonder how things may have been different if this giant of a man would still be walking among us. How our thoughts and collective conscience may have been led along different pathways. How our actions and beliefs may have taken a different turn with his tutelage, guidance and certainly his need to express what was "right" - no matter what the cost.

I was recently asked by someone who read one of my short stories, "A Pot Of Gold", in a cynical tongue-in-cheek manner if I truly believed in angels. I answered that while I cannot prove the existence of angels, I know I have danced with them many times. The person gave me a look as if I had totally lost it, laughed, and said "Okay, I will bite. When did you dance with angels?" I smiled and said, "Every year, on Yom Kippur when I was in Yeshivat Har Etzion and listened to Rav Amital during Musaf, and the students burst out in song at "Mareh Kohen" - I danced with the angels."

Obviously the person thought I had truly lost my mind. Perhaps I have. Yet if I was ever asked again, the answer would be the same. I have danced with the angels because of Rav Amital. Such is the gift he left behind. Such was his legacy. 

Below I have taken the opportunity of reprinting a piece I wrote when Rav Amital died. It remains as true today as it did three years ago. I place it below, not only to honor his name and his legacy but perhaps for those who did not know him, to understand the loss of such a great man - one who knew how to call upon the angels and God himself and force the heavens themselves to listen to the pleas, prayers and tears of all of mankind.

Clinging To The Divine

Over the past week I have spent most of my waking hours in grief and mourning. I am no stranger to grief yet the depth of this specific pain has left me speechless and pleading with the Divine for some solace. And though mourning at this time of year should be reserved for the destruction of the Temple during these nine accursed days, I mourn for a man who for many years was in all ways a father to me. I have truly experienced the repercussions of the horrendous destruction of the Temple Mount.

Devouring all the words and eulogies one could find on the person, Rabbi and leader known to all as “Rav Yehuda Amital” has not eased the pain. Most covered Rav Amital’s history, his long journey from the Holocaust to the land of Israel and the huge and incredible accomplishments -  social, religious, political and moral - this great man made during a lifetime of eighty‐five years. This is important for the “historical record” as it were. Yet to me and many others, there was also the person, the individual, the human who defied and still defies categorization.

Those of us who grew up in the shadow of the yeshiva he built, known as Yeshivat Har Etzion and drank from its waters, underwent a metamorphosis. We watched, listened, heard and studied Rav Amital’s words and actions over the years. Paradoxically, the thoughts, ideas and philosophies of Rav Amital were never written in stone. He was a constantly moving stream ‐ evolving, moving forward, striving to find what was right in all situations. Rav Amital never took the easy path. Indeed, the term “easy” was an anathema to him. He sought not only what was best for the State of Israel, but was guided by a profound inner‐ethic which demanded the best for all Jews and indeed for all mankind, no matter where they lived, be it in the Diaspora or in Israel.

One factor, one focal point steered Rav Amital. It was his belief that the Divine Hand was apparent in all things and it played a part in each and every individual in their own private and public lives. “Hashgacha Peratit” as it is known in Hebrew. He could not explain the “why” of it, as he himself was left with the terrible burden of knowing he had survived the Holocaust while all his family, community and friends had been murdered. He only knew that once the Divine Hand showed a path, it must be acted upon. Rav Amital was a man of deep introspection and a man who never faltered when he believed action must be taken.

Yet beyond words, which are so limited in trying to describe this giant of a man whose likeness is granted to our people perhaps every few generations, there was a living, breathing soul, which, if it touched you, it stayed within your heart of hearts forever.

I was one of the lucky ones who was deeply effected and influenced by Rav Amital. The magnitude of his personality was not limited to his vision and foresight. Rav Amital’s greatness emanated from his true love for even the most simple Jew. Indeed, in another era, in another time, though he would have shunned it like a plague, Rav Amital could have easily become one of the great Hassidic leaders.

There was a time, oh‐so‐long ago it seems, when we as a people had faced the demons of the Yom Kippur War and found ourselves not so many years later embroiled in the First Lebanon War. This time, specifically painful for Rav Amital, was a moment in history that changed a great deal in his outlook and thinking. The stream within him became an ocean raging in the tempest of a great hurricane and Rav Amital with courage beyond most normal humankind, allowed it to evolve. But I will leave this aspect to his biographers and those who can explain these events in a more cogent way than I ever can hope to achieve.

During this time of war I asked Rav Amital a question. I do not know what I expected from my Teacher and Mentor, as it was a question that no human could possibly answer.

When I asked the question of Rav Amital in the Beit Medrash in the Yeshiva, he looked up at me and said (and I translate this from the Hebrew):

“Teddy, I do not hold the keys to understanding the universe in my coat pocket. It is not the answers you should be seeking. It is the right questions to ask.”

It took many long years and a great deal of personal pain to gain enough wisdom to understand the answer Rav Amital gave me on that day.

Make no mistake. The world of Religious Zionism as Rav Amital tried to build it, tried to teach it, tried to explain it, tried to influence it, is in grave danger without his soul and teaching to lead and guide us. We have not only lost a leader, but a person who is truly beyond description, even if we write volumes about him.

The younger generation, my children among them, who understand the loss of Rav Amital more than most because they knew him, will and must find their own path within our people and in our homeland. Yet they will be denied access to this man who was beyond and greater than life. They will be forced to rely on a lesser wisdom, which pains and scares me in equal measure.

Again and again this past week, between waves of tears which come at the most unpredictable times, and memories long buried, somehow fight their way to the surface, I wonder at our future bereft of this great man and leader.

On Yom Kippur, thousands would converge on the Yeshiva to listen to Rav Amital be the “Chazan”. The experience, which anyone who has ever been there will tell you, was beyond description. If there was any place on this earth where one could truly feel and understand the meaning of Yom Kippur and dance with the angels, it was in the Beit Midrash of Yeshivat Har Etzion.

Before Neilah every single year, Rav Amital would give a five minute speech. Every single year it was the same thing. Every single year it was the same words. Every single year he quoted from the same Talmudic piece and Midrash. And every single year, we drank it in as if it was the very first time we ever heard it. He began in tears and ended in tears. Indeed the tears never stopped flowing.

“I am asleep but my heart wakes: My Beloved is knocking saying, Open to me, my sister, my dove, my undefiled.” (Song of Songs 5:2)
Upon this the Midrash comments: “Open to me. Rabbi Jassa said: The One, blessed be He, said to Israel: ‘My sons, present to me an opening of repentance no bigger than the eye of a needle, and I will widen it into openings through which wagons and chariots can pass through.”

After quoting the above Rav Amital would say:

“It is our duty, during Neilah, while the gates of heaven are closing to our prayer to forcibly keep a gate open. We must not only pray for ourselves but for all of our people and all of humanity. We must pray for those incapable of prayer. To make our tears and prayers heard so that we can guarantee for ourselves, our families and all of our people a year of blessings and peace.”

As Rabbi Yoel Amital, (Rav Amital’s son) has said again and again, this became almost a code. It was the essence of the man who became Rav Amital. It was and will always remain the focal point of his teachings. To rip just a pinhole in the heavens so that God will stretch that pinhole and allow chariots to pass through. But first we must rip that pinhole open. First, we must act and grasp the moment. First and foremost we must be whom we were truly meant to be.

And at the end of Yom Kippur before Maariv thousands of people would join in song singing:
Min Hametzar” – “Out of my distress I called upon God, and God answered me with liberation”.

For those who knew him, this was the essence of Rav Amital. He taught a generation of thousands upon thousands of students, and the number is no exaggeration, to cry from the depths of our souls. To split the heavens open with a small pinhole. To call upon the Divine demanding to be heard. To cling to the Divine. This was the right and more importantly, the responsibility of all those who dared to follow along a path which was fraught with obstacles.

To cling to the Divine.

In his passing from this world, the legacy that Rav Amital left us, if we prove wise enough, should not be forgotten nor ignored – if only for the sake of our children and our children’s children. That legacy though so complicated and multi‐faceted is also very simple. To always attempt to tear open that pinhole in the heavens and place our tears before the Throne of He Who Hears All Prayers – for all Jews no matter what they believe and practice or don’t believe and practice. For every single person be they wise, erudite, simple or tainted. All deserve our tears and our hope. All deserve a kind word and a helping hand. This was Rav Amital’s message. A simple one. Yet one so deep, so incredible, so full of love it should leave us shivering in awe.

“A Song To Thee On High. From the depths (of my soul) I call upon you God”.

May we all be granted the wisdom not to seek the answers, but the right questions to ask.

Of all the eulogies written it is time for someone to say with respect, total devotion and great sorrow the simple words:

“We loved you Rav Amital.“

Through the tears, mourning and sorrow ‐ Yihi Zichro Baruch.

We, your people, your students, and those who never knew you, desperately need your guidance and wisdom.

May God in His compassion, truly allow for the following words written on all gravestones to be realized.
May Rav Amital’s soul be bound in the bond of everlasting life.
Tiheyeh Nismato Tzerurah Bi’Zror HaChaim.

Ted William Gross
4th of the month of Av, 5770
Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Israel After 30+ Years - A Very Personal Perspective

Over the years I have from time to time ruminated on the wisdom of moving to Israel from NYC. If I count from the time I first came to Israel and stayed to study I have been here for over 40 years. If from the date of Aliyah, the day I moved to Israel, it is over 35 years. No matter how one looks at it, it would be fair to say such a time period does offer perspective.

Recently, a best friend came to visit, which he does fairly often, and in one of our discussions he mentioned his surprise that after speaking with at least 4 other friends of his who have been living in Israel for 30 years or more that we all expressed a desire to "get the hell out of the country for a while". More surprising none of us were talking about a vacation of 3 weeks. We were all talking about the need to simply "leave" for an extended and very prolonged period. A sort of "cabin fever" which was surprising and certainly for him, came out of left field.

Many of you who read this may know me or have known me over the years and such a sentiment of "wanting to get out" may come as a surprise. Yet the Israel I moved to so many years ago, the Israel in which all my children and grandchildren have been born in, the Israel where I have lived through war and its destruction, the Israel which lay at the center of all my personal and professional decisions,  the Israel where my heart had rested - that Israel seems to slowly have faded into a mist-filled memory of the past.

I am not talking about the deep social, economic or religious change to the very fiber of this country. This, though radical, when looked upon in the perspective of history, and certainly swift, does not really make a dent upon myself or others like me. Nor do I think, though it is possible that this is true, that I am somehow facing suddenly a "life crises" of identity. What I personally have sacrificed in my lifetime, and what others who read this  have sacrificed - well we all know every person has their own baggage and their own bag of sorrows. Therefore talking about specific personal experiences, sorrows and horrors will serve no purpose nor would I feel comfortable in doing so.

I am certainly not sorry nor if given a chance to redo it would I do so, that my children were born and raised here. I thought and still do believe, Israel was the best choice and indeed a blessing in that area. 

When I came to Israel, there was no Nefesh Bi'Nefesh, and indeed the only support system for Aliyah was a very lose and antiquated system of Jewish Agency Aliya Counselors. I was lucky to have landed with one of the best at the time, but even so, over 30  years ago, a few days after coming to Israel, I had written off the Jewish Agency which at the time had full control over Olim. Even today, the name of the Jewish Agency just mentioned brings up cynical thoughts, and the absolute useless and even detrimental experience it caused for many Olim. I was one of the few of the lucky ones, in that I did not have to move into an Aliyah Center, and I was spared at least part of the ordeal and thus got out from under the heavy and useless arm of the Jewish Agency as fast as I could. Indeed, I ran from it and thank goodness I did. The Jewish Agency along with Rishut HaShidur (Israel's Official News agency) which is just another tool to tax people for no reason, are two examples par-excellance of arcane, useless and even destructive institutions which should be shut down and relegated to history.

However, despite the mini-rant above, none of this effected or effects the present. These were just bumps in the road, bumps to be traveled over and to move on. Life has a way of leading us and allowing us to lead. It can be beautiful and cruel, For some the path is hard and difficult, for others a bit more easy, for others brutal and devastating, for even others destructive and full of horror. Sometimes it is our choice - other times it is not the path we decide but the path that chose us. Mistakes are made and if we are lucky we get to correct them. Choices are presented. They usually are never black and white but in shades of gray. And to make such choices wisdom, knowledge, compassion and kindness are required or else we lose our own selves within a black pit which often more than not leads us straight to an Abyss which can only be  imagined by Dante.

Great joy is to be had as well - make no mistake. War, change, death and life all mix together, and over the years one must to stay even remotely sane, seek out the moments of peace, joy and happiness. Yet this is true of life all over not specifically in Israel per-say, so why in many of my friends and myself do we suddenly have and no longer fear to express this deeply embedded need to get the hell out of here. Is it disappointment? Is it age? Is it just an "itch"? Or is it something more perhaps sinister and depressing which goes to the very root of the society that we all have given a hand in creation. Do we see what others do not see yet? Do we view the world with different glasses, and find that Israel, the one we thought existed, the one we fought for should exist - no longer does exist?

Has the world passed us by as we grew older? Have we become so out of touch and so unable to adopt anymore that we are simply unable and lack the strength to continue? 

Many feel that Israel is a modern, culturally adept and fair country. Until you fall into the pit of dealing with a myriad of arcane laws and realize we live in a state which when needed will flex almost a "police state" mentality against its own citizens. And no, I am not talking about terrorism or war. I am talking about the day to day life and existence. We are taxed beyond any measure of sense or economic justice; the poor are left to their sorrows; the rich live in their own reality; laws which by all means should actually show enlightenment ad understanding are created to support and help the "have's" and not the "have-nots". This is on all sides of the spectrum in politics. I have long ago realized, at least for myself, it makes absolutely no difference whether the "right" or "left" run the country. In the end once in power they all do the exact same thing in terms of social inequality and injustice.

There are days when I feel it is time to leave. Even with my entire family here, it is time to leave. To set up home far away from here, in a place where not every decision has to be weighed and days can flow one into another in moments of peace. There are days when I feel the fight is not over. Where all that love and desire to create a country worthy of our people and heritage is worth the fight and worth all the deprivation and sacrifice. And there are days where I simply no longer care. Those days scare the hell out of me. The days where I can no longer care, where I am totally withered and bereft of dreams which carried me so long and so far. 

Maybe it is time to go. And I am sure those of you with the flame of ideals still lit in your eyes and soul, will say to me "then just go. Get out. Who needs you?" and perhaps you are right. Perhaps on these things one should stay silent and one should just move "quietly into the night". Or perhaps if this is truly how many feel who have come here years ago, some red lights should go off. Alarm bells and sirens should sound loudly and the question must be asked, "Why? Why do all these people suddenly want to leave their home? Why do they feel after so many years betrayed and abandoned by the country they fought for and devoted their entire lives to?"

There was a time when I believed all should come and live here. I can no longer give the Aliya speech with any sort of conviction. I can no longer look into someone's eyes and say "You should live in Israel". Indeed, if asked, I stay silent on the matter these days, terrified, truly and totally terrified that if I do answer, what will come out of my mouth will be a scathing and cynical attack on the country that for so long stood at the center and apex of my belief system. Indeed, I sometimes feel sorry for those planeloads of Olim coming from the US and Canada, and think to myself that they have no idea what they are truly getting themselves into. And yet, that is the beauty of life. In that we do not know what the future holds in store for us.

As the sun rises on a new day, I can still see, to my utter surprise and even joy, a Jerusalem of Gold - a precious jewel I had thought lost to me long ago. I can see it shimmer and flicker as it always did. And for some unknown reason I feel it pull at me - weaker I grant you, than it pulled at my heart so many years ago, but still the pull and attraction is there. It cannot be denied. 

I sigh. I look away. I search deep inside. And I pray for the strength to ignore the rubble and find the gold. Another day has come to the country I helped in a very small way to build. Another day has come in which I will see things which I no longer want to contemplate. Another day has arrived where perhaps I will finally decide to leave. Or perhaps I will look up and the mist will be lifted.

It is a complex reality brought about by a dream of thousands of years. And it comes down to leaving or staying. Or as I truly have come to believe the choice is not even mine to make. As life will lead me upon another path and road. And all I can do is hope that I will have time to take a breath, to think and look forward to those ever-rarer times when the sun will smile upon my face, and the golden tint of the magic of Jerusalem and Israel will shine through.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Wonderful Review For "Love In A Cafe"

I do admit patience is not a virtue of mine. But many months ago, I discovered a blog, written by Alain Gomez, called "Book Brouhaha" which actually reviews short stories. I sent an email to Alain at the time, asking her if she would review one or more of my short stories in the "Ancient Tales, Modern Legends" Collection. After a while I truly forgot about it or let us say it was way in the back of my mind. Then a few days ago an email suddenly appeared in my inbox from Alain, that she would be posting a review on "Love In A Cafe". 

So being me, and always assuming the worst, I knew Alain had a rating system of 1-5 stars (or maybe 0-5 stars). So I was hoping for maybe a 2 or 2.5 star rating as she does not give them out easily. 

I was pleasantly surprised (actually shocked would be a better term) to see she had given "Love In A Cafe" 4/5 stars and a wonderful review. I am quoting the review below but you are welcome to click here and visit "Book Brouhaha" review of "Love In A Cafe". 

Much like a good cup of coffee, this is the type of story that makes you sit and savor the moment.  At first I was a little thrown off by the structure of "Love in a Cafe."  The author divides it up into chapters which is unusual for a story this length. 

But nothing about the plot feels rushed or "wannabe-novel" (i.e. didn't feel like writing a whole novel so everything is crammed into low word count).  Yes, there are large gaps of elapsed time between chapters but Gross does an excellent job adding just enough details to make you feel like you're in the now.

The result was a beautiful love story with a perfectly bittersweet ending.  As with many short stories, this tale doesn't fall clearly into any one genre.  It's a romance but really it's more of a reading experience.  Highly recommended.

4/5 stars
Reviewed by Alain Gomez
If you write short stories check out "Book Brouhaha". And Good Luck with the Stars!

Books by Ted William Gross

If you wish to purchase the books at Smashwords click here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Interview: Cyndee Schaffer and Mollie Weinstein Schaffer, co-authors of “Mollie’s War: The letters of a WWII WAC in Europe”

“Mollie’s War,” is a memoir weaved around the collection of letters that Mollie wrote home to her family during WWII along with historical commentary concurrent with the letters.  Published by McFarland Publishers in August 2010, Mollie’s War documents the human side of life during the war – a life that alternates between fear and romance, exhaustion and leisure.

Genre: Non Fiction, memoir

Published by McFarland Publishers

Why did an average Jewish-American woman become a WAC (Women’s Army Corps) during World War II and place herself in peril?
“Mollie’s War,” answers this question and more.  It is a memoir weaved around the collection of letters that Mollie wrote home to her family during WWII along with historical commentary concurrent with the letters.  Published by McFarland Publishers in August 2010, Mollie’s War documents the human side of life during the war – a life that alternates between fear and romance, exhaustion and leisure.
It took many letters home, sharing everything from daily challenges to exciting experiences (when the censors allowed) for my mother’s story to emerge.  What was it like to be in England while the country was under constant bombardment by unmanned German missiles? Imagine being among the first WACs to enter Normandy after the D-Day invasion. Consider using your French foreign language skills from high school, as my mother did in Normandy, and when she was transferred to Paris serving as informal interpreter in both work and social situations.  Envision a young Jewish woman in Frankfurt, Germany, on Rosh Hashanah, 1945, and walking with other soldiers and officers to the rededication of the only standing synagogue.
The collection of letters vividly depicts my mother’s experiences from her first train trip to Daytona Beach, Florida, for basic training in October, 1943, to the dramatic image of her seeing the illuminated Statue of Liberty in the midst of darkness as her ship approached the U.S. shores when she returned home in November, 1945.  This book may be the first collection of letters published by a Jewish American WAC.
Did you ever wonder what it would be like to work with your mother and learn about her life; and in doing so discover a completely different person?   My mother, Mollie Weinstein Schaffer was a WAC during WWII stationed in Europe.  Like most of her generation, she did not talk about her service. 
In October 2007, my mother received a letter from the daughter of her last surviving WAC buddy that her mother, Mary Grace Loddo Kirby, had passed away.  This unfortunate event gave me the impetuous to begin this project and see it through to the end while my mother was still alive.  I knew I was living on borrowed time……after all my mother was 91 at the time.  My job contract ended in December 2007; so I had the time to collaborate with my mother.   Timing is everything in life.
This project began in earnest in January 2008.  I had a suitcase of letters that my mother wrote home as a WAC stationed in Europe during WWII.  For some reason her family did not throw out her stuff.  Included in that suitcase were lots of memorabilia—over 350 letters, photos, and newspaper clippings.   My mother had labeled all of the pictures with names, dates and location which helped to make my task easier. 
Writing a book based on letters from the 1940’s is a formidable task.  In order to actually be able to use these letters in a book, I needed to read them and to transcribe them---about 1000 pages typed. Some of the original letters were typed, some hand written and some V-mail—reduced in size and very difficult to read.   I also needed to be familiar with the content for the book so I would have a general idea of what I could cut out since no one would read a 1000 page book of letters.  It became a family project as my husband, sister, daughter and son all helped in the transcribing of letters. 
My mother was always cognizant of her being Jewish and this is a theme throughout the book.   She grew up in a Kosher home but being in the army changed her dietary habits.  Eating bacon for breakfast became a staple for her.  On a lighter note, she was aware of the men that she dated and was most pleased when she could describe the young soldier as a M.O.T., member of our tribe.   When she arrived in the newly liberated Paris in September 1944, she used some Nazi stationery to write to her family.
“Yep, we are finally in Paris and you can see that the Americans took over the situation. Can you imagine—ME—with the “handle” that I’ve got using Hitler’s stationery?” 
And then she sent another letter home describing how she was spending her first Yom Kippur away from home
“This is the eve of Yom Kippur and I somehow felt that you would want to know how I am spending Yom Kippur. I am spending it just like any other day in the army—work day. I really could have gotten time off—but I felt that I would rather work. It’s the first time you know for me, but I feel right about it.  I also decided not to fast—which is also unusual for me—but there is no sense in attempting to work on an empty stomach.—So there you are, and I feel right about the whole thing. Even this moment at the office I feel just as if I were home—there is a soft reflection of a light against my window with the grayness of a September day—and it’s almost as if I were home and Mom had lit the candles on the living room table. I don’t think I will go to the synagogue as it would make me homesick—and I don’t want that to happen.…”
In sharp contrast, she was in Frankfurt, Germany on Rosh Hashanah 1945 and witnessed the rededication of its only standing synagogue.   The only reason this synagogue was not destroyed during Kristallnacht was because of it close proximity to Nazi buildings and the Germans did not want to risk destroying their buildings.
“The services were certainly well attended by our Army and Navy personnel. There were a lot of high ranking officers there, too. As for the civilian Jews, there were very few left to attend from this once large community of 34,000 Jews. Beck, these Jews were not dramatic, nor did they carry-on, but one could discern readily the untold suffering they had experienced these many years. They held their heads high—and we were all proud to be a part of them. Yes, the Germans watched us walking in the synagogue and out—they were hanging out of their windows eyeing us carefully. Not one remark was passed; nor did they even speak amongst themselves, that is, while we stared back at them. This was a great day and one I shall never forget. Although I really didn’t want to come to Germany, it was worth it just to see all this. …”
Collaborating with my mother on this project was a very strange experience.  It is impossible to know what your parents were like before they married and became parents, but using my mother’s actual letters and photos felt like being transported by time machine to another era.  Reading and seeing my mother as a young carefree woman who made decisions for herself and traveled the world during this most treacherous time made me realize the full life that she had before she had a family.  My mother was so excited that we were actually working on the book and writing her story because she always wanted people to know about the role that women played in the military in WWII.   We were offered a contract in 2009 with a traditional publisher, McFarland Publishers, who were planning on launching a series about women in the military.  Our book was published but they never added additional books to their series. Using the actual wording from my mother’s letters made “Mollie’s War” a first person account of World War Two in Europe. Seeing the smile on my mother’s face when she held her book, “Mollie’s War,” in her hand was priceless.  Peppered throughout her letters was the fact that she wanted to write a book… and it happened—only 65 years later!
Mollie’s War” won first place in biography/memoir at the 2012 Royal Dragonfly Book Contest, a bronze medal in autobiography at the 2011 Stars and Flags Book Awards and was a finalist in the 2011 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year contest.

My mother passed away on April 8, 2012 during Passover.  We remember and are thankful for the courageous "call to duty" that the Mollies and others of her generation felt so that we could all be free.

Books by Ted William Gross

If you wish to purchase the books at Smashwords click here.

An Apology On Delays

I know it has been a long time since I have posted on this blog, though this was due to other matters which required 100% of my time and concentration. I was astounded by the amount of kind and concerned emails that have piled up in the Cobwebs email in-box and I want all to know they are greatly appreciated.

I do hope to be able to return to a more normal publishing schedule, and get my feet wet, yet again, in the world of words and publishing and learn and see just what has been going on during the time of my forced absence. Reviews will start to be published again, (I even hope to get to one later today), and you can once again start by sending in your request for reviews as well.

To all the authors out there, I wish you only success and great achievements. To all those who follow my musings on writing and publishing, I hope to make you smile and laugh again. And of course to all those who have never bought a short story or book of mine "BUY MY BOOKS!". (See I told you - I am back!)

Seriously, thank you for your concern and wonderful emails, and now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Books by Ted William Gross

If you wish to purchase the books at Smashwords click here.